Mirroring a national trend, a high percentage of North Carolina school districts have not been using anti-drug programs shown to be most effective in preventing adolescents from experimenting with drugs, according to a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill survey. Some districts across the state have no programs that have been proven effective at all, researchers said.
Under the direction of Dr. Denise Hallfors, research associate professor of maternal and child health at the UNC-CH School of Public Health, doctoral student Melinda Pankratz surveyed Safe and Drug Free Schools coordinators in all 117 N.C. public school districts last August. Of those, 101 returned the questionnaires for a response rate of 86 percent.
"The survey was designed as a baseline measure to assess how well school districts were adopting a new federal policy requiring recipients of Safe and Drug Free Schools money to implement programs that have been proven effective," Pankratz said. "We assessed what types of programs districts were using, such as curricula, policies, student-assistance programs, parent and community involvement, as well as other factors affecting how school districts will respond to this policy."
Initial results showed strong support for and interest in improving drug prevention programs, she said. Currently, the most popular programs, such as Drug Awareness and Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), were not among those proven to be effective.
"A growing number of schools have begun using the more effective ones such as Life Skills Training and Project ALERT," Pankratz said. "This is encouraging. About a third say that they are using Life Skills Training and a quarter Project ALERT."
Another important finding, she said, was how little time coordinators have to devote to drug use prevention. More than half the respondents said they spent fewer than 10 hours a week.
"That means they are scattered in lots of directions, and research shows that to run good programs, there needs to be at least one fulltime equivalent employee doing drug prevention at the district level," Pankratz said. "Only 25 percent of our schools had one or more people doing this full time."
North Carolina schools tested for drugs more often than most other states, usually in connection with athletics or other extracurricular activities, she said. As expected, the smaller and more rural school districts had fewer resources for drug prevention. Also, their prevention coordinators were less likely to know about the federal policy requiring use of proven programs.
A two-year Public Policy Scholars grant to Pankratz and Hallfors from the N.C. Governor's Institute on Alcohol and Substance Abuse paid for her work, which includes a detailed examination of drug prevention programs in N.C. school districts. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation paid for the national survey.
Note: Hallfors can be reached at 919-966-6287, Pankratz at 806-3293.
School of Public Health contact: Lisa Katz, 966-7467.
News Services contact: David Williamson, 962-8596.